Walnut Memories

It’s amazing how the smallest thing can sometimes bring back the most vivid memories. Memories long ago forgotten come back with a trigger that comes out of left field. That happened to me this morning.

I was home for an hour while my wife was at a doctor’s appointment. My youngest son, Zachary was with me. He said, “Dad, can I have some of those nuts?”

“What nuts?’

“Those ones. Up there.”

I didn’t see them, so he marched up to the island in our kitchen and pulled down a plastic bag full of nuts. The bag contained walnuts, filberts, pecans and almonds. All of the nuts were in their shell. We never have nuts like this in our home. So, when I saw them I said, “Honey, we need a nutcracker to open these. I’m not sure that we have one.” And, that’s when the memory came.

When I was growing up I used to spend a lot of time at my Grandpa Art and Grandma Helen’s home. Grandpa loved nuts, especially walnuts. Every time I went to their home there was a bag of walnuts sitting on the kitchen table. And, if you opened Grandma’s cabinet drawer, there were two well worn silver nutcrackers. My Grandpa and I would sit at the table. We’d crack open walnuts, eat the nuts, and Grandpa would tell stories.

The stories were great. There was the adventure that Grandpa took on a train to a carnival nearby, where a carnival barker was furious with him for continually winning the carnival game and threw him out. There were the countless stories of what it was like growing up as a boy on Michigan farmland. There were the stories he’d tell me about what my mom was like as a little girl.

I am so blessed that the memories that I have of my growing up years are positive.

As a youth pastor I am continually reminded of just how blessed I am. Unfortunately, many of the students that I work with don’t have pleasant memories of their homes, their relatives, or their childhood.

If God has blessed you with great memories, thank Him today. If not, resolve to give good memories to the people in your life.

Zachary and I managed to get one of those walnuts open. I’m glad. It’s going to be a good memory for him someday.

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

Choose Your Top 3 Book Link Is Now Live

A lot of you have been asking me about my book that will be released in August of 2006.

Zondervan has now put an author link and book link on their web site.

The author link can be accessed at http://www.zondervan.com/books/profile.asp?BioID=SchulenburgB

The book link is here: http://www.zondervan.com/Books/Detail.asp?ISBN=0310267463

I’d appreciate your prayers that God will use this project to be a blessing in the lives of others.

Advance Tickets To See Narnia

How would you like a chance to see Disney’s new movie, Narnia – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, before all of your friends?

Wooddale Church has secured 1,000 advance tickets for the movie. You’ll get a chance to view the movie before everyone else does — at 6:45 the day before it comes out. That means you’ll see the movie on Thursday, December 8. Everybody else has to wait until Friday, December 9. Tickets go on sale at Wooddale this Sunday.

Tickets are for the AMC Theaters – Eden Prairie Mall. Cost is $9/ticket.

If you’ve never read C. S. Lewis’ masterpiece Narnia series, start with the book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s a phenomenal story, and the spritual parallels are remarkable. I’d recommend reading the book, seeing the movie, and then having a spiritual conversation with a seeking friend after you’ve seen the movie together.

Wooddale will be having a C. S. Lewis book club starting shortly after the film releases.

Consider it.

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.”

Isaiah 11:6

26 Young Men

I was with 26 young men this past weekend in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin for The Emerge Conference. It was a conference that we created for the purpose of helping high school guys understand God’s unique purpose for men.

What an incredible weekend! We spent time discussing the church, it’s relevancy for today, the unique challenges that men face, and spiritual leadership. I was encouraged as these guys talked about their passion to be a part of God’s redemptive work on planet earth.

There are several humorous moments that occur on a weekend retreat where there are no women around, and guys are free to just be guys.

Here are a few of them:

1) I have never smelled a worse smelling vehicle than our bus. A pungent odor was with us the entire weekend. It was our constant companion.

2) Guys who can hold their bladders for countless hours when women are around become wusses when no women are around. Just when one guy was feeling great, another would have to use the facilities.

3) Belching is expected, and sometimes confused as a spiritual gift.

4) Guys can flat out eat. $75 worth of junk food can evaporate in a matter of minutes.

5) Guys will still spend $5 to make back .50 in the quarter game that I used to play at county fairs as a little kid.

All The Time

When I lived in the South, pastors would often march up to the pulpit and pronounce, “GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME AND ALL THE TIME . . .”

Then with a gleam in their eyes they would look at the congregation and await their response. The congregation would respond, “GOD IS GOOD!”

As hokey as the ritual was, it was true. God is good, all the time.

All the time.

Recently, I have had several students question God’s goodness with me. The questions have ranged from, “If God is so good, then why do bad things happen to good people?” to “I just don’t get God. Why did he let this or that tragedy happen?” to “I don’t feel like God has been good in my life.”

Life is hard. There are difficult things that we will face throughout our lives. But, God’s goodness does not depend upon our circumstances. Good is a descriptor of God. It’s one of the reasons that we have to thank Him. 1 Chronicles 16:34 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

Sometimes we need help remembering just how good God is.

Here are five ways that God has demonstrated his goodness to us:

1. He hasn’t given us what we deserve.
Who among us is worthy of God’s mercy? If you answer that you are, you, my friend, struggle with self righteousness. Romans 6:23 tells us that what we deserve for the sin in our life is eternal separation from God. But, that God has offered us eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ. We deserve death, but He offers us life.

2. He has given us today.
The air that you breathed when you woke up this morning was a gift from Almighty God. He loves you. He has given you an opportunity to make the most of today. He hasn’t promised us tomorrow, but we have right now. No matter what your circumstance, our good God can use today to shape the rest of your life. Let Him have complete control over your day. Ask Him to give you divine moments. Look for the small things that He brings your way. Try to view every interaction with others as a moment that God has designed from before you were born. Those interactions with others are sacred moments.

3. He gave us Jesus.
The greatest gift ever given to this world is the gift of Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8 says that, “God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Only He, who is ultimate good, would do something so sacrificial.

4. He ultimately desires the best for us.
The problem is, so many of us think that we know what is best for us better than God does. Ask the average American, and they’ll tell you that the best for us would be a big house, nice car, good family. God’s best has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with desiring Him. God, in His goodness, wants us to experience and love Him.

5. He loves like no other.
Some of the most beautiful passages in Scripture are the ones that describe the expressions of love that Jesus showed to those who rejected him.

Of a rich young ruler, who would ultimately reject Jesus, we read that, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21a)

Of a crowd that desperately needed the touch of a Savior we read, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.(Mark 6:34)

To the disciple that was in the midst of betraying Him, Jesus said, “Friend, do what you came for.” (Matthew 26:50)

I don’t know what you’re going through this week. But, I hope you’ll remember God’s goodness. He loves you so much.

An old children’s song sums it up well . . .

God is so good
God is so good
God is so good
He’s so good to me.
God loves me so
God loves me so
God loves me so
He’s so good to me.
He cares for me
He cares for me
He cares for me
He’s so good to me.
He died for me
He died for me
He died for me
He’s so good to me.
He lives for me
He lives for me
He lives for me
He’s so good to me.

"I Need A Sign," "I Just Don’t Feel God," and Other Tough Questions Students Ask

We call it Pizza and God Talk.

Of all of the ministries that Wooddale Senior High does, nothing is changing hearts as much as this one.

Every other week 40-80 students meet at a Uno’s Restaurant in Edina, Minnesota to discuss what questions they have on their mind. If you want to read about the amazing history of Pizza and God Talk check out this link: http://www.wooddale.org/PDF/Week/ThisWeek051023.pdf. You’ll find an article about it on the Children and Youth page.

Last night’s Pizza and God Talk brought up a couple questions that I hear often. They are important questions that students deal with all of the time. Because these qustions are so important I wanted to devote a bit of space to openly discuss these questions here.

Here are the questions in paraphrase form:

1) Brian, I have given up so much to follow God. And, I feel like God is silent. I just feel like I need God to give me some sign to show me that He’s real. Why doesn’t God do that?

2) Brian, I have been a Christian for a long time now. I have read through the entire Bible. I have read lots of Christian books. I just feel distant from God now. What do I need to do to feel God’s presence in my life?

The rule at Pizza and God Talk is that students have to take turns answering the questions first, and then if they can’t answer it, an adult takes a stab at it.

These types of questions are the toughest to answer. Why? Because we’ve all been there. We’ve all had times where God seems distant, where our faith grows cold, and where our spiritual lives seem more like monotany than vibrant relationship with God. But, let me suggest something that would be good for all of us to remember when we have these questions.

What is the common denominator behind these questions? It’s that they view God through the lens of self rather than viewing self through the lens of God. We Christians are quick to foget just how much God has done for us. We’re quick to forget the lessons that He has taught us. We want God to work like a supercomputer, giving us the answers to our prayers in lightning quick speed. We want Him to give us what we want, not what He knows we need. We want a the lessons that God is going to take a lifetime to teach us to be learned in a moment.

That’s not how God works. He never has.

When it comes to asking God for signs, we’re off base. It was only on a very few occassions in Scripture that God revealed Himself or His will through signs. Hebrews 11 is one of the greatest chapters in Scripture. It is the record of those who followed God by faith. Most of these characters never received a sign from God telling them exactly what God wanted.

Here’s what God has given us. He gave us the Bible. His will for how we are to live our lives is recorded there. But, He also gave us more. He’s not a cold hearted God who said, “Here, read, find out my will in a book.”

John 1 tells us that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God gave us God. The student who asked for a sign did so because he felt like he had given up so much. He wondered what God had done for him. The student had given up a lot. He had left behind a life that had held him captive for so long. There was a battle going on within the student that made him feel like maybe it wasn’t worth it to have given up so much to follow God. But, it was. The student, viewing God from the lens of self, thought of all that he had to give up, and forgot all that God had to give up in order for the student to be forgiven. When reminded of God’s supreme sacrifice, the student’s need for a sign began to vanish. God had already given him everything he needed.

The next step for the student in finding the contenment that God wants him to experience is for him to begin to live his life the way that God designed him to live it — to discover the unique purpose for which he was created. I began to share with the student the strengths that I see in him — the natural and spiritual gifts that I believe that he has. And, I challenged him to use those gifts. He will never be fulfilled until he is living for his unique purpose. He needs something to take the place of that which he left behind when he followed Christ. He needs to live for what he was created for.

The student who followed Christ for so many years, read the Bible, etc. but felt distant from God also needed to discover his unique purpose. God has a great purpose for each one of us. This student grew up in a Christian home. He’s been going to church since he was in his mother’s womb. He knows so much about God. I told him that until he begins serving God in a purposeful way, he is going to be like the baseball player, who practices with his team every week, but never gets in the game. He sits on the bench, waiting for a chance to hit, but never has a chance to make an impact on the game. We’re not going to feel God if we don’t use the gifts that God has given us, and if we dont’ take God up on God’s challenge to us. Remember what Jesus said before he ascended into heaven?

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

When will we feel Christ’s presence? When He is working in us to accomplish his purposes.

Want to feel Christ? Go out on a limb. Ask Him to use you to accomplish what you cannot accomplish on your own apart from Him. Then there will be no question as to whether or not God is really there.

Here are some of the other tough questions that students regularly ask at Pizza and God Talk.
– How do we know that Christianity is true and other religions aren’t?
– Why do Christians act like jerks to homosexuals, people who have abortions, and people who don’t agree with their political agenda?
– Why did God allow my (friend, parent, sibling, etc.) to die?
– Are the recent hurricanes God’s judgement for the sin of those cities? (Incidentally I thought Diane Sawyer of ABC news answered that question well, when with another questions she said, “If Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgement on New Orleans, then why was the French Quarter the only area of the city that was spared?”)
– Is my (friend, relative, etc.) who wasn’t a Christian burning in hell right now?
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20b

Happy Birthday Jeremy!

“Brian, I want you to look at me. We are not having this baby today! I may be in labor, but I can wait to deliver.”

That’s right, Jeremy. Your Mom wanted you to have your own special birthday.

Your sister Breanna had just celebrated her sixth birthday, and your brother Chris had just celebrated his fourth when you were born.

Oh, what a bundle of joy you were. I think you’ve had a smile on your face since the day you were born!

Jeremy, we love you so much.

Happy Seventh Birthday!!

It’s been fun watching you grow up, and to see how much you love Jesus and others. We absolutely love your heart. Dad and Mom are proud of you.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Happy Birthday Breanna!

I’m trying. I really am. But, it’s hard.

Okay, here goes.

Today, my daughter Breanna is a ttt

Just a second.

I know I can do it.

Today, my daughter Breanna is a ttteenager.

Okay. I did it. I said it.

Breanna is a teenager.

Breanna, where have the years gone? It seems like yesterday that Mom and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first child. We didn’t know if you were going to be a girl or a boy. We were both just so excited that God had suprised us with a pregnancy. For nine months all we could talk about was this little child that God was going to bring into our family.

When you arrived — WOW! Our world changed. Forever.

I didn’t want to let you out of my arms. I would hold you from the moment I woke up in the morning until the moment I left for work. When I arrived back from the office, I’d rush to hold you in my arms again.

This morning, I held you again. You’re a teenager now. There, that wasn’t so hard to write that time. A teenager. I hugged a young woman who I am so proud of. You are a joy to parent. I constantly learn lessons from you. You challenge Mom and me with the love that you have for others, for God, and with your zest for life.

I love you, Breanna.

Happy Birthday. And, may you forever know, that your birth day made every day to follow so much better than the days that preceded it for your Mom and Dad.

I couldn’t be more proud of a daughter than I am of you.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

3 John 1:4